Employers help workers switch off

The Life: How is this for a twist: some bosses are now switching off the email feature on their employees¿ smartphones to combat the risk of burnout.

FILE - In this March 11, 2010 file picture Volkswagen logos are seen in the production line at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. Volkswagen AG said on Wednesday, April 21, 2010, it earned euro 473 million (637.9 million US dollar) in the January-March period compared with euro 243 million a year earlier. (AP Photo/dapd/Joerg Sarbach, File) *** Local Caption ***  LGL102_Germany_Earns_Volkswagen.jpg
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How is this for a twist in workplace dynamics - some bosses are now switching off the email feature on their employees' smartphones to combat the risk of burnout.

Volkswagen (VW), Europe's biggest car maker, recently agreed to switch off the email function on BlackBerrys at night for more than 1,100 workers in Germany.

Employees will now only receive emails from 30 minutes before the start of flexi-time working hours until half an hour after they end, although they will still be able to dial out and receive phone calls, according to Reuters.

But is VW's move a smart business decision, and should companies in the UAE follow suit? The answer, unfortunately, may not be that simple.

"The impact the BlackBerry being on 24/7 has on an individual will very much depend on that individual and how the team is managed," says Nanette Fairley, the chief executive of Innovative Human Resource Solutions, a consultancy based in Dubai. "If the manager expects the phone [or] email to be responded to 24/7 that can have a significantly greater impact than if the individual chooses when and where to use the technology.

"If one feels the BlackBerry is in control, not the individual, then burnout will result for some people."

The backlash against using gadgets for work outside the office has been going on for some time. But it has recently been bolstered by new evidence that shows staying tethered to a workplace sometimes hinders, rather than helps, on-the-job performance.

In March, the National Sleep Foundation in the US released data warning that about two-thirds of Americans - 63 per cent - say they don't get enough sleep during the week. Technology was cited as one of the major problems, as nearly everyone surveyed admitted using some kind of electronic gadget such as a mobile phone or computer at least a few nights a week before going to bed.

Some experts blamed digital devices for disrupting sleep and contributing to poor functioning the following day. One theory: exposure from artificial light between dusk and the time people go to sleep suppresses the release of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone.

The light may also enhance alertness and shift circadian rhythms to a later hour "making it more difficult to fall asleep", says Charles Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School.

"This study reveals that light-emitting screens are in heavy use within the pivotal hour before sleep," says Prof Czeisler. "Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported that they routinely get less sleep than they need."

Other studies have shown that workers who use mobile devices for work purposes, such as a smartphone, tablet computer or laptop, log more hours on the job than their counterparts who are less prone to turning to technology.

In fact, they end up working a full 240 hours more each year compared with the general workforce, according to the iPass Global Mobile Workforce Report, which was released in May and included responses from employees in the Middle East.

Nearly half - 43 per cent - of these workers store their smartphone within arm's reach when they go to sleep at night.

Just 0.2 per cent leave it at work - perhaps only because they forgot to take the device home.

Those that do sleep near their phone are 60 per cent more likely than average to wake up and check it in the middle of the night. But while this may impress the boss, spouses do not always appreciate the gesture.

Indeed, gadget-grabbing workers at night are 10 per cent more likely to report friction in personal relationships, according to the iPass report.

Of course, there is a seemingly simple solution for many of these workers: The number one reason for checking a smartphone at night is because it pings each time an email drops into someone's inbox - so switch the feature to "off".